It had been left to your usual gadfly, Governor El-Rufa’i of Kaduna State, to stir the hornet’s nest accusing the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) of giving preferential treatment to students of northern origin. El-Rufa’i made the declaration on Channels Television on Monday where he also lamented that the preferential treatment “has not helped, in fact, it has made our people lazy. Against this differential, JAMB and federal government scores, I think people should be encouraged to work hard and compete.”
Verily, there has been a seething resentment to the taunts coming from another half of the country at these perceived admission advantages enjoyed by Northern students getting into federal government institutions. Many of us feel that we should have gotten rid of that system a long time ago. I suppose El-Rufa’I was wrong about JAMB and as expected, they were quick to issue a rejoinder saying that since inception in 1978, they have never been in the business of giving any part of the country, ‘preferential or deferential cut-off marks’.
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Actually, it has been the universities individually that operate a form of quota system giving allotted percentages, in descending order, to merit, catchment area and educationally disadvantaged states. I am sure the grouse of the governor lies more with the quota reserved for disadvantaged states that are mostly spread around the northern region. A few more are in the South-South and South-East states. Nevertheless, El-Rufa’i was dead right about the federal government scores. And this is particularly evident in the annual admission into Federal Government Colleges where an untenable differential scoring system has been operating for many years now, as can be seen from the Federal Ministry of Education circular setting out admission criteria for Unity Schools.
Randomly reading from that circular that recently went viral on the social media, the cut-off marks allotted to Anambra State is 136, Enugu 134, Kebbi 9, Zamfara 4 and Taraba 3. From the set criteria, one can deduce that it is possible for a student from Taraba State with 3 marks to make it into any Unity School, while a student from Anambra State with over 100 marks, but less than the 130, could be denied. This is patently unjust, not only to the spirit of competition among the students but also to the standard the school would wish to elevate and maintain. It also reflects badly on national unity and cohesion. For how can our leaders continue to explain this obvious lack of fairness in our admission criterion?
One can admit that probably all nations fiddle around with admissions criteria into schools, taking into cognisance perceived historical deprivations by some groups and to help prop them up so that they come at par with others. It had been the same here too. This quota thing could be traced back to the late 1970s when the educational imbalance between some parts of the North and the rest of the country became markedly pronounced. This must have manifested from the products of the Universal Primary Education (UPE), which was started in the mid-1970s by the Obasanjo military regime with the main goal of providing basic education for every child in the country.
It was a laudable scheme but most parts of the North were unprepared. Massive amounts were spent to build schools and supply instructional materials but there was a shortage of quality teachers to handle the schools. Thus, for years after, the products of the primary schools were half-baked and could not compete for college placements with their colleagues from other parts of the country. Thus, the admission quota that became the panacea entrenched itself, year in year out and governments, particularly the guilty ones in the far-north, became apathetic doing little to better the situation.
I know that the North had good primary and secondary schools from independence through half of the 1970s, producing largely comparable products to other parts of the country. The primary school I attended in Maiduguri did so well in the 1966 Common Entrance exam that it sent its products to as far as Federal Government College, Warri, without any hint of lower cut-off points. And the secondary school I attended, Government College, Keffi had one of the best WAEC results in the country, in my set of 1971. Similarly, at the same time in Kaduna, the new Sheikh Sabah College, now Sardauna Memorial College, presenting its first WAEC students scored almost 100 per cent.
Even the only university in the North, ABU Zaria did not have to bend the admission criterion to fill its campus with only northerners. It accepted students from other parts of the country in large numbers. It even came up with the idea of the School of Basic Studies (SBS) taking students directly from the fifth form of secondary schools to prepare them through the rigours of university education for admission into degree courses. The SBS was adjudged such a success that other universities across the River Niger picked and adopted it as part of their system.
A clarion call has now been sounded for the abolishing of the unjust cut-off points. The federal government should take immediate heed or at the worst put an exit date on the present practice. Those guilty Northern Governors must sit up to remedy the situation.